The Illiberalism of Video Game Alarmism

Matt and Julian have done a good number on it already, but Samhita of Feministing’s aesthetic Stalinism as regards Grand Theft Auto 4 is truly remarkable:

On some level, I do agree with proponents of GTA 4. Several of my friends have said, “but it is just fun.” I don’t deny that advances in video game technology are in fact mind-blowing and down right incredible and the they are fun. Hello, I am a blogger, I get the nerd new-cool-fun-fangled-technology thing.
What I can’t get down with is justifying blatant misogyny by calling it art.

Apparently, great, cutting edge art is only designed for a straight male point of view. There is nothing free about the space that GTA4 is creating, it is a cultural and corporate site of predetermined identities that yes, allow you to do things that are illegal, but I think it is a far cry from freedom.

Are the vast majority of GTA4 players (or gamers in general, for that matter) straight men? Sure. But that doesn’t make it a “straight male” game. Samhita assumes that one needs to be like Niko Bellic, the game’s protagonist, in order to appreciate it, at least in sexual orientation and gender. But that’s absurd. Why are those similarities prerequisites, and similarities in other respects (race, national origin, criminality) ignored? I’m willing to wager that GTA4 players are overwhelmingly WASPy, native-born Americans devoid of criminal records – unlike the Serb immigrant criminal Bellic. Why are those major differences less of a problem, in Samhita’s eyes, than orientation and gender? I’d be willing to wager that the differences between a WASPy American-native non-criminal straight guy playing GTA4 and a WASPy American-native non-criminal gay guy, straight girl, or gay girl are of a much, much lesser gravity than that gamer’s differences with Bellic.
Samhita goes on to say that GTA4 players are projecting their own fantasies onto Bellic:

Furthermore, it is played, repeatedly and it is a role playing game, where you are the person engaging in violent acts. It is a fantasy, your fantasy. Perhaps there is a moment of identification like this with movies, but it is different then actually acting something out yourself.

Yeah, no. As she notes in her post, GTA4 has raked in half a billion dollars since being released on April 29th. If all the millions of people who contributed to that total harbor repressed violent psychosexual urges, I’m guessing we’d have a much greater violence problem than we do. Moreover, even if a substantial fraction of them do (and I very much doubt it), so what? As Matt points out in his post, violent video games – like violent movies – perform an important substitution role, providing an outlet for violent urges that falls short of criminality, the same way pornography staves off rape. Samhita may not like GTA4, but I think it’s far likelier that it has a positive social impact than a negative one.
But the thing that disturbs me about Samhita’s post the most is her logic for opposing Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s attempt to censor the game:

actually stand at a different point than MADD and I don’t necessarily support the censorship of the game, I don’t really think censorship works. The more ratings and labels you put on something, the edgier and sexier it becomes.

NO. Don’t oppose censorship because it doesn’t “work”. Oppose it because it’s wrong. Because it’s illiberal. Because it’s antithetical to an open society and freedom and liberal democracy. This is what angers me so much about radical feminists like Dworkin and MacKinnon – their attempts to fight the patriarchy (or what they saw, I think mistakenly, as patriarchal forces) extended so far that they felt it acceptable to throw the Constitution and freedom of expression by the wayside when it became inconvenient. Liberals shouldn’t accept that abuse of our liberties, that attempt to regulate our personal lives and undermine the rights that makes the democratic experiment possible, whether it comes from Focus on the Family or NOW, whether it’s caged in Christian or feminist logic. It’s wrong either way.
Look, I hate misogyny. I try my best to avoid exploiting the privilege that comes with being a white male in our society, and to challenge my friends when their edginess turns to bigotry. But I’m not willing to throw away my most basic right so that some overly doctrinarian interpretation of a video game, and I’m not willing to hear that right debated about for its “usefulness”. Freedom of expression is non-negotiable. Not because censorship “doesn’t work”. Because censorship is wrong. Always.

2 thoughts on “The Illiberalism of Video Game Alarmism

  1. Censorship isn’t always wrong. We censor every day in our daily lives. Especially for children–ratings are a form of censorship by age. And it’s not a bad thing. I don’t think we should hold such a “liberal” view of NEVER allowing censorship and thinking self-expression is completely non-negotiable. There’s gotta be some concessions. I don’t know what my well-thought out opinion on GTA 4 is, but I just know that just like we can’t censor EVERYTHING, we shouldn’t just say that we should never censor ANYTHING, because we do all the time, consciously and unconsciously.

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